By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com September 12 2011 5:20 PM ET
The murder of one transgender woman and the nonfatal shooting of another in Washington, D.C., over the weekend have prompted growing alarm and questions about the police response to a series of unsolved crimes in recent months.
Early Saturday morning, a Latina transgender woman died of an apparent homicide in northwest D.C. Police have not identified the victim or any suspects. Then on Monday, a transgender woman went to the hospital after being shot in the neck early in the morning in southeast D.C., according to WUSA.
The latest incidents suggest a pattern of violence sweeping across the city while the police department fails to contain the growing threat, although the crimes may or may not be connected. Since July, at least two women have been murdered, in addition to multiple shootings and other attacks, including one incident last month in which a drunk off-duty police officer opened fire on three transgender women and two male friends in northwest D.C.
“I would say it seems like it’s almost open season,” said Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, who lives nearby in Montgomery County. “I don’t recall D.C. becoming a shooting gallery like this.”
The Monday shooting differs from earlier incidents because police have identified a suspect known to the victim. He goes by the name of Tyrone, according to WUSA.
Advocates said the prospect of an arrest provides limited consolation after a summer of brutality that took the life of Lashay McLean in July and saw another shooting in the same northeast D.C. neighborhood less than two weeks later. Also this weekend in that area, two women had a gun pulled on them while exiting the Metro. No suspects have been arrested in any of the cases.
“I think there is almost a sense of panic,” said Brian Watson, director of programs for Transgender Health Empowerment, where McLean frequented a drop-in center. He said the murders and shootings would dominate the agenda when advocates speak with police officials at their regular monthly meeting this Tuesday.
Last month Watson and others attended a special meeting with Police Chief Cathy Lanier in response to the emerging violence. Issues included the police department’s record of reporting the wrong gender for transgender victims of crime and the controversial restructuring of the police department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit two years ago. Some advocates claim the reorganization contributed to the current violence.
Watson said that while communication with the police department has improved since that special meeting, a significant amount of work remains to be done, as evidenced by the latest crimes.
“We just want to know exactly what police are doing to try to apprehend people,” he said. “Don’t they have any suspects?”